Far From Flatbush
In 1998, at the height of Clinton impeachment mania, I, as editor of Sex Acts magazine, commissioned a cartoonist to illustrate “choice” parts of the Starr Report, independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s record of his run-amok investigation of a White House enmeshed in scandal—financial, political, and sexual. The report, now best remembered for its explicit descriptions of the multiple erotic encounters between a 49-year-old sitting president and his 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky, was published unexpurgated in The New York Times, marking the first time the Gray Lady had allowed “fuck” and “blowjob” to stain her pages.
One Sex Acts cartoon illustrates a tryst that, according to the Starr Report, took place in the White House study on December 31, 1995. It shows Bill Clinton, pants around his knees, displaying a curving erection of porn-star proportions that appears to be Viagra-enhanced—though Viagra wouldn’t be available to the general public for three more years. It’s an image that encapsulates much of what The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido (Twelve), by Vanity Fair editor David Friend, is about.
That’s presumably why the words “Naughty Nineties,” as they appear on the cover of this 632-page epic, are shaped like a curving, fully engorged, seven-and-three-eighths-inch phallus—though the effect is subliminal. I’d been reading the book for a month before I noticed it. I now assume that phallus is meant to represent Clinton’s penis, which is really a stand-in for every Boomer phallus that ever grew erect in the nineties.
If Bill Clinton and his penis are the star of this leave-no-stone-unturned analysis of the decade in which libidinous Baby Boomers took over America, Viagra is the co-star, and the complex, dramatic, and at times touching tale of how it was discovered, tested, named, and marketed, and then became one of the best-selling prescription pharmaceuticals ever—thus bringing erections and their dysfunction into our living rooms—may be the most fascinating part of The Naughty Nineties. (See “The Hardener’s Tale” and “Homo Erectus.”)
Hillary Clinton, weaponized gossip, and the Internet are among the major supporting players, with the latter two bearing responsibility for the “tabloidification” of an era in which “we learn not only that Prince Charles is having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, but are treated to a recording of Charles stating that he wants to be her tampon.”
It’s also a decade in which expansive silicone breasts and the $10-to-14-billion-a-year pornography industry emerged from the shadows to penetrate every segment of mainstream media and society.
My book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is among the multitude of texts that Friend, whom I work with at Vanity Fair, consulted in the course of his research, and The Naughty Nineties elaborates on some of the material I touched on. In discussing Lyndon Johnson’s porn-investigation commission, for example, I describe the president as “a corrupt Texas Democrat with a big dong,” before moving on to Richard Nixon’s war on porn. But how is it known that Johnson had a big dick? Friend explains: “He was known to flabbergast acquaintances by whipping out his Texas longhorn of a pecker.”
This kind of breezy, vernacular-laced prose makes The Naughty Nineties an entertaining alternative to the slew of turgidly written textbooks dominating undergraduate reading lists for any number of history, sociology, political science, gender studies, and communications courses, such as U.C.L.A.’s “Pornography and Evolution.”
The scene in “Chez Fleiss” of Friend’s journey through the Mojave Desert to visit “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss contains another good example: “To get here, I have driven an hour along the parched perimeter of Death Valley without spying a human soul. And then, like some portent out of Castaneda, I see a vision. A titty bar.”
Yet Friend’s intent is never less than serious, and his research sets a scholarly standard for comprehensiveness, no matter how raw the subject matter. In “Botox, Booties, and Bods,” he explores rap culture’s fetishization of the female buttocks, cataloguing, in three jam-packed paragraphs, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot’s “crooning about the merits of a fuller moon”; Experience Unlimited’s “Da Butt,” a.k.a. “(Doin’) the Butt”; 2 Live Crew’s “Face Down, Ass Up”; Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Appelbum”; Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre’s coining the word “bootylicious”; Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker”; DJ Jubilee’s inventing the term “twerk”; Juvenile’s “Back That Azz/Thang Up”; Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty”; and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Ubiquitous and fulsome footnotes, which could comprise a volume unto themselves, enrich this meticulous detail. (The mother of all footnotes, on pages 467–68—perhaps the longest annotation I’ve personally encountered—analyzes why the institution of marriage is “on the rocks.”)
Friend is at home, as well, with the erotic. In “The Glory of O” he brings to life a masturbation workshop: “Ken, ever stroking, tells the audience, ‘Her clit just grabbed on to my finger.’ Her legs shake and flutter. ‘The clitoris is a spinning top,’ he says, ‘now spinning by itself.’”
In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the nineties set the stage for the ascent of Donald Trump and a presidency in which politics, pornography, gossip, and reality TV are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. And Friend, rising to the occasion, ends with “The Trumpen Show.” But is Trump the terrible tyrant of a passing moment—the Tawdry, Tempestuous Teens, when the Times turns to titan of adult cinema Ron Jeremy for insight on POTUS paramour Stormy Daniels, the biggest XXX superstar since Deep Throat’s Linda Lovelace? (It takes a president.) Or has he brought us to the edge of an Enervating Endtimes, leaving us longing for the days when the most horrific thing you’d read in your daily newspaper was Ken Starr’s depiction of Oval Office anilingus?
We’ll just have to wait for the return of the Roaring Twenties for an answer. They’ll be upon us soon enough.
Fran Lebowitz described Donald Trump as a poor person's idea of a rich person. But Trump is hardly the only rich person who comes across as vulgar, bigoted, and megalomaniacal. There's an entire subspecies of extremely wealthy men, some perhaps wealthier than Trump, who admire his lifestyle and all he stands for. In an effort to be like Trump, they do their best to emulate him.
I worked for two such people—both of whom happened to be porn-magazine publishers (and both of whom went to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that pornography was their primary source of wealth).
Carl Ruderman owned the company that published High Society. Lou Perretta owned the company that published Swank. I wrote about them both in Beaver Street—long before Trump had become a threat to the country and the planet. Though Beaver Street looks at 20th century history, politics, and culture through a pornographic lens, I made no effort to draw a comparison between these two prominent sleazemeisters and the man who will soon have the power to start a nuclear war. Between 2004 and 2009, when I was writing Beaver Street, Trump, to me, was an easily ignored ignoramus whose self-aggrandizing horseshit was generally confined to the pages of certain gossip rags. I didn’t even know he had short fingers.
But now that reality has shifted so radically, I thought it might be instructive to look at the similarities between my former overseers and America’s about-to-be-installed overseer.
Born Rich: Ruderman, Perretta, and Trump, though all born on third base, suffer from the belief that they hit a triple and got to where they are due to their own innate superiority. Trump, however, does admit that he was helped along by a “small loan” of $1 million from his father.
Thy Father’s Business: Ruderman took over Drake, his father’s lucrative publishing company that specialized in how-to and home improvement books. Perretta took over Great Eastern, his father’s printing plant, once the largest employer in Poughkeepsie after IBM. Trump, of course, took over his father’s real estate empire.
The Porn Connection: It seems that men of a certain ilk who inherited their wealth find the pornographic milieu irresistible. Though Trump did not literally go into the porn biz, as the two Mini-Trumps did, it should be noted that the first-lady-to-be, Melania Trump, has posed in a pornographic lesbian pictorial and Trump himself has appeared in a Playboy Video Centerfold.
Transformers: Ruderman and Perretta apparently chose the porn biz because it’s illegal to print money. Between High Society magazine, “free” phone sex, and “Celebrity Skin,” Ruderman turned Drake into a bigger cash cow than it was under his father—free phone sex alone (he made two cents every time somebody called the number) generated $70,000 in profits per week at its 1983 peak. Like Trump, Ruderman published a luxury lifestyle magazine, Elite Traveler. Perretta, who never seemed to grasp the difference between being a printer and being a publisher, enhanced his fortune by buying up virtually every porn mag in existence, using them as fodder to keep his presses running 24 hours a day, and turning a profit on a 15 percent sale of any press run when his competitors needed to sell 30 percent to do so. In between bankruptcies, Trump transformed his inheritance into a branding empire, notably Trump University, an overt scam for which he recently agreed to pay a $25 million fine to settle fraud allegations by former students.
All in the Family: Ruderman didn’t believe in nepotism, though perhaps he should have. He hired and fired with impunity, to the extent that anybody who survived at High Society for more than a year was considered an old-timer. Perretta, like Trump, believed that loyalty is far more important than competence, and filled all key positions with relatives (preferably blood relatives) whenever possible. Trump’s offspring Eric, Donald Jr., and Ivanka are all executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization and have played key roles on his transition team. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in violation of nepotism laws, has been named as a senior White House advisor.
Greed Is Good: Ruderman, Perretta, and Trump are all driven by the desire to enrich themselves and their families at all costs while lording it over everybody else, especially their employees.
Bully Boys: Ruderman was a quiet bully who rarely raised his voice but took pleasure in humiliating his employees. At staff meetings he’d call on anybody, from a top editor to the mailroom boy, and ask, “What have you done this week to make my magazine a household name?” If the employee didn’t have a satisfactory answer, Ruderman would say, “Do you want to be standing on the breadline?” Perretta was a classic screamer who routinely berated his employees for the most trivial mistakes. The more trivial the mistake, the louder he screamed. Trump’s Twitter feed, a litany of insults and intimidations, serves as a perfect illustration of two of his most pronounced character traits: pathological bullying and a reflexive need to destroy anybody who criticizes him.
Some of My Best Jews Are Accountants: Ruderman acted as if women were pieces of meat fit only for display in pornographic magazines, but he was smart enough to not express any overt racial or religious bigotry in front of his employees. Perretta, however, couldn’t help himself. On one occasion he said to an African-American art director, “Shrink that photo, like your ancestors shrunk heads!” On another occasion he referred to his African-American employees as “animals.” On a third, he told three Jewish employees, all of whom were sporting facial hair, “This place is starting to look like a Yeshiva.” He was eventually sued for age and sex discrimination. Trump’s vile remarks about minorities and the opposite sex are so ugly, my inner 20-year-old punk-self wrote a song about it, “Don Vicious,” which includes the lines, “You hate Muslims/You hate Jews/Women, black skin/Brown skin too.”
Imagine More Possessions: Ruderman, who was chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce that once belonged to Queen Elizabeth and lived in mortal fear that he’d be barred from the most exclusive country clubs if they found out he was a pornographer, was the most nakedly obvious Trump-lifestyle emulator. When Trump bought a helicopter, Ruderman bought one, too. Though lower-key than Ruderman and Trump, Perretta owned a yacht and a Mercedes and strove to insure that grandchildren yet unborn would also ride in their own Mercedes cars. Trump’s private-jet-gold-plated-spare-no-expense luxury lifestyle is as famous as his bigotry, his lying, and his compulsion to humiliate.
The Beauty, the Splendor, the Wonder: The once silver-haired Ruderman now dyes his coif an unnatural shade of jet-black rather than choosing Trump’s unnatural regal gold. Perretta, meanwhile, sports a hairdo of all-natural gray.
Make America Hate Again: Ruderman has despised Larry Flynt ever since he made him Hustler’s “Asshole of the Month” and did not support Flynt’s run for president. But he kept his other political views under wraps, at least in front of his employees. This was undoubtedly a good decision. Perretta, like Trump, is a staunch supporter of right-wing causes and has donated money to his former New Jersey Tea Party Congressman Scott Garrett, one of the most radical members of the House of Representatives. A “birther” who was finally defeated in November after 14 years in office, Garrett was anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-minority, anti-voting rights, anti-environment, and anti-poor—positions that meshed perfectly with Perretta’s own political views.
American Sociopaths: I think Trump and the Mini-Trumps would all agree that empathy is an emotion for losers and women only.
Lock Them Up: In the late 90s, as free Internet porn became ubiquitous and sales of High Society were headed for oblivion, control of the company was given over to an organized crime family who tried to turn things around with a credit card scam that defrauded consumers of approximately $730 million dollars. Prosecutors soon caught on and charged the “X-Rated Mobsters,” as they were called in the tabloids, with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, extortion, and money laundering. Though Ruderman, claiming he was a “silent partner,” escaped prosecution, some of his Mafia colleagues went to prison, and the company, in a judgment reminiscent of what happened to Trump University, was fined $30 million. Ruderman then sold the smoldering ruins of High Society to Perretta. Ultimately, though, both the High Society and Swank pornographic empires went belly-up amidst collapsing sales and criminal and civil legal actions. As for Trump, so rabid is his disdain for the Constitution and so myriad are his conflicts of interest, impeachment seems inevitable. Uncorroborated as they may be, recent claims that the Russians have videos of Trump “employing a number of prostitutes to perform ‘golden showers’” (among many other bits of damning and salacious information) indicate that blackmail resulting in treasonous acts is a distinct possibility. Perhaps Trump will be indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Bay while awaiting trial. Like all sociopaths large and small, Trump believes that the law does not apply to him. This may very well be his ultimate downfall.
I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Read More
1. Cruz: Sets the standard for hypocrisy.
2. Trump: His response to Cruz’s New York put-down redeems him from “most vile” slot.
3. Christie: Crime boss as politician.
4. Rubio: Smug, callow warmonger.
5. Carson: World-class ignoramus.
6. Bush: He’s a Bush.
7. Kasich: Expresses his vile positions in ways that almost sound reasonable.
On this 35th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, I'm finding it difficult not to think about guns. But it seems that anything I could say about them has already been said repeatedly by people far more conversant with the issue than I am.
Is there anything to be gained by expressing my disgust with the NRA, who apparently believe that everybody over the age of three should be armed; the Congress, who are on the take from the NRA; and the menagerie of candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination, one of whom, a medical doctor, has said, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away”?
I doubt it.
In Nowhere Man, I explain that Mark David Chapman acquired the handgun he used to murder Lennon by telling a lie on his pistol-permit application. He said he’d never been institutionalized for mental illness, when, in fact, he had. But nobody did a background check, and Marky got his gun.
Of Chapman’s delusional act, I wrote, “Nobody has ever assassinated a popular entertainer before. This is completely different, a new kind of madness. It’s very scary shit.”
Thirty-five years later, this “very scary shit” has gone well beyond assassinating popular entertainers. I now live in a country that’s in the throes of a guerrilla war being waged by terrorists and unaffiliated crazies of all stripes and their supporters in the NRA, Congress, and on the campaign trail.
The other night, my wife and I were eating dinner in a crowded restaurant that we’ve been going to for years. And though I didn’t say a word about it at the time because I didn’t want to ruin the meal, I kept glancing out the window and thinking that this is probably not a good place to eat anymore. The restaurant, situated on a wide avenue that branches off into a warren of streets and provides easy access to bridges and tunnels, is a good target for somebody who wants to do a mass shooting and escape. It’s better to eat in a restaurant on a narrow side street prone to traffic jams—I thought that would be a less inviting target.
This is what it’s come to in the land of the free and the home of the brave—everybody walking around thinking about how to avoid being shot and how to protect yourself when the shooting starts. And though it would be nice if Yoko Ono’s “Imagine Peace” were something more than a cliché as absurd as the Republicans’ offering “thoughts and prayers” to victims of the latest massacre, it’s not.
It’s going to take a lot more than imagination and prayer to solve the problems of a country where at last count there were more guns (357 million) than people (317 million).
In 2015, we are all at least as vulnerable as John Lennon was, and he was more vulnerable than he ever imagined. Read More
In celebration of this theme, I'll be reading the section from Beaver Street that ties together Lyndon Johnson's Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, Richard Nixon, Billy Graham, Charles H. Keating, Deep Throat, and Watergate. All in about 1,300 words.
Whitney Strub, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, will be reading from his first book, Perversion for Profit (Columbia University Press), which was just released in paperback, and which covers material that’s almost identical to what I cover in Beaver Street. (You can read a review comparing the two books here.) The title is a reference to an anti-porn film produced by banker and convicted felon Charles H. Keating, who might have described Strub as a “permissive professor dedicated to a position of complete moral anarchy.” Our kind of educator, in other words.
J. C. Malone, a take-no-prisoners political columnist for Listin Diario, in the Dominican Republic, will read one of his columns, posible en español. Translation will be provided. Here’s a link to a recent Malone dispatch from the Bronx.
Malone’s daughter Gloria Malone, who writes for Teen Mom NYC, will read “I Was a Teenage Mother,” her Op Ed piece that ran in The New York Times.
Other performers include Lainie, who will read from Election, by Tom Percotta, adult film star Britney Shannon, actor David Healy, and actor Peter Loureiro.
It promises to be a provocative and enlightening evening, and we hope to see you there. Admission is free and the event runs from 8:00-10:00 P.M. Read More
It was Heller who brought Didion to my attention, back in 1972. For a fiction writing class at City College, he put Play It As It Lays on a list of the greatest novels of the 20th century. (The list also included Catch-22.) Though I didn't enjoy it when I read it then, a recent rereading of this story of a woman's life in Hollywood proved Heller correct: Play It As It Lays is a great book.
But it was Didion’s essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem which I first read in grad school and have reread countless times since then, that proved influential. The essays are textbook examples of first-person journalism at its best—a perfect fusion of style, emotion, and information. And the title essay, about Haight-Ashbury in 1967, is one of those rare pieces of writing that I read and thought, “This is what I should be doing.” I also love the simple truth she expresses in the preface: “Writers are always selling somebody out.” Every serious writer should have that embroidered in needlepoint and hung on their wall. Because if you’re not selling somebody out, what you’re doing is PR.
I’m writing about Didion now because the other week, I finally picked up her 2001 essay collection, Political Fictions, a series of devastating takedowns of the democratic process, the journalists who cover politics, the politicians themselves, and the books that some of these politicians have written. What I like most about the essays is that Didion tells the truth as she sees it and, unlike the journalists she’s writing about, she doesn’t care who never speaks to her again. She sells out everybody.
For example, perhaps the kindest thing she says in “Newt Gingrich, Superstar,” about the literary output of the former speaker of the house is: “To Renew America shows evidence of professional copy-editing.”
And in “Political Pornography,” she says of the oeuvre of Bob Woodward, stenographer to the Washington power elite: “These are books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent.”
Much of what Didion writes is truer now than it was 12 years ago. Which is why nobody mentioned in these 322 pages has ever used one word of Didion’s as a blurb on a book cover. Read More
In other election news, it comes as no surprise that Scott Garrett, the Tea Party congressman who takes money from pornographers, was reelected by a comfortable margin in his New Jersey district. It would be nice to say that Garrett, who has one of the most ultraconservative voting records in congress, is New Jersey’s problem. But Garrett, who is vicious, intelligent, and articulate, promises to do all he can to stop Obama from accomplishing anything in his second term. He belongs to us all.
And finally, I’d like to thank New York State for making voting more complicated, confusing, and stressful. In order to cast my ballot yesterday, I had to wait on four lines: a line to find out which table to get my ballot, a line to get the ballot, a line to use a “privacy booth” to fill out the ballot, and a line to scan the ballot, which, incidentally, provided something less than total secrecy. I really do miss the old machines, where you waited on one line, went into a booth, closed the curtain, and pulled a lever. It felt like you were casting a vote. The new way feels more like you’re taking an SAT, which perhaps partially accounts for the increase in stress. Read More
But lower Manhattan's problems don't amount to "a hill of beans" compared to what's happening in parts of Long Island, Staten Island, New Jersey, and especially the Rockaways, where 20,000-40,000 people have been left homeless, and there appears to be a Katrina-like humanitarian crisis brewing. And, as you may have heard, there's an election tomorrow. All of which is to say, it seems inappropriate to get back to book business as usual.
As longtime readers of this blog are aware, I’ve never shied away from discussing politics, though I tend to limit those discussions to issues that relate directly to Beaver Street. I have, for example, written at length about the fact that my former porn publisher, Lou Perretta, has donated money to Tea Party icon Scott Garrett, a New Jersey congressman who’s up for reelection tomorrow, and—as Jersey residents should note—has voted to drastically cut funding for FEMA’s disaster relief.
As for the presidential race, I mean really, what can I say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? Of course I support Obama, and the less said about Romney, the better. I don’t think anything I say here could possibly change anybody’s mind as far as who to vote for. But I do urge you to get out and vote, no matter where you are and who you support. Because if you think there’s no difference between the candidates, then you’re a fool. Read More
What made this story even more interesting is that Garrett, who’s up for reelection, seems unbeatable. The Democrats couldn’t even find a credible candidate to run against him. Instead, they settled for a sacrificial lamb, Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, whose campaign has raised little more than $5,000 to face off against Garrett’s $2-million war chest. Should both Garrett and Mitt Romney win in November, there’s a strong possibility Garrett will replace vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
I made every effort to bring the story of Garrett’s porn connection to the attention of the mainstream media. The only newspaper that expressed any interest was The Record of Bergen County. One of their reporters interviewed me and did additional research and investigation. In the course of the interview, the reporter told me that the Democratic Party was urging The Record to run the story. This was six months ago, and the story never ran.
The Record, most likely, was unable to prove to the satisfaction of their attorneys that Louis Perretta is, in fact, a pornographer. Outside of this blog and my book Beaver Street, there was nothing on the public record that tied Perretta to porn. He’d covered his X-rated tracks extremely well, and had succeeded in portraying himself as a respectable business executive.
That changed over the Labor Day weekend. The New York Post, in a column unrelated to Garrett, identified Perretta as a hardcore pornographer. The piece, “Popstar!’s porn kin/Source: Teen magazine has hard-core ties,” by Keith Kelly, said that Popstar!, “a popular magazine for teen girls… was bought by a New Jersey publisher alleged to have ties to the hard-core adult magazine empire headed by Louis and Stephen Perretta. The Perrettas, through their Paramus-based Magna Publishing, own a host of X-rated magazines with titles including Swank, Playgirl, Lesbian Licks, Cherry Pop, Just 18, Celebrity Skin and Fox—which is billed as ‘home of the world’s dirtiest porn stars.’”
Yes, Kelly does use the word “alleged.” But still, this is the first mention in the mainstream media of the Perretta family’s ties to pornography. Can The Record or the Democratic Party do anything with this information? Could this possibly be Scott Garrett’s October surprise? One can only hope. Read More
It has been pointed out that I sound self-righteous in these postings, like Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who often writes about child prostitution and human slavery. It has been pointed out that the Garrett-Perretta story is not a “mini-Watergate,” as I’ve described it, because there’s nothing illegal about a porn king donating money to a Tea Party politician. And it has been said that I’m a hypocrite because I once worked in pornography and that I took Perretta’s money for the nearly seven years that he employed me.
To respond to the last point first: Yes, I worked in porn for 16 years, and I endured because I needed a job, and porn paid a living wage. Like many of my colleagues, I saw it as a “survival job,” a way to pay the bills as I continued to pursue what I really wanted to do—write books. As I say in Beaver Street, much of what I did disgusted me, but I was able to carry on because I had a strong stomach. I don’t dislike porn; I dislike the kind of porn I was doing—schlocky, grind-it-out-as-fast-as-you-can, anti-erotic porn. If criticizing the people who grow wealthy by splattering this kind of stuff all over the planet while grudgingly paying me a living wage makes me a self-righteous hypocrite, then so be it. I’m a self-righteous hypocrite.
And, of course, it’s true that it’s not illegal to donate money to political candidates. What makes the Garrett-Perretta story scandalous on a mini-Watergate level is the mind-boggling hypocrisy of a candidate from a political party that wants to destroy the porn industry accepting contributions from one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America. Which begs a number of questions: Why is Perretta giving money to people who want to put him out of business? Because he likes the Republican platform of tax cuts for the rich and fuck everybody else? And what if the Vatican’s own anti-porn candidate, Rick Santorum, gets the nomination? Will Perretta give him money, too, just to help defeat the foreign-born, Muslim-socialist who currently occupies the White House?
I could go on indefinitely dissecting this kind of lunacy, but there’s no need to. Because the story of corrupt conservative Republicans who will stop at nothing in their efforts to destroy the porn industry is at the heart of Beaver Street.
I will say, however, in the course of my career, I’ve always written what I thought to be the truth without worrying if the people I was writing about would like what I had to say. That was the case with my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. That was the case with Beaver Street. And that will continue to be the case with this blog. Read More
These anonymous porn mongers have five things in common: They’re all men. They were all born to wealth. They all used their wealth to create pornography empires. They all increased their wealth immensely by producing pornography on an industrial scale. And they all went to great lengths to publicly portray themselves as respectable businessmen, unconnected to XXX.
Having worked for three of these men, I’ve written about them at length in Beaver Street. They are Carl Ruderman, former publisher of High Society magazine and the father of “free” phone sex; the late Charles “Chip” Goodman, former president of Swank Publications; and Louis Perretta, who bought all the Swank titles from Goodman in 1993.
I bring this up now because, as the “real” media continue to investigate the story that I broke here last month about Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett (New Jersey, 5th district) accepting campaign contributions from Perretta, who is now one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America, they seem to be having some difficulty establishing that Perretta is, in fact, a pornographer. The Federal Election Commission documents that detail Perretta’s contributions to the Republican Party over a ten-year period list him as a self-employed business executive with the Great Eastern Color Lithographic Corporation, the now shuttered printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York, where Perretta once printed his porn mags. And beyond this website, a Google search for any connection between Perretta and porn reveals little that’s verifiable. Perretta, in short, has done a commendable job of covering his X-rated tracks.
As we wait for some intrepid reporter to pull the trigger on this sordid political scandal of right-wing extremism and hardcore pornography, it would be instructive, I think, to further explore the phenomenon of pornography kings who go to great lengths to obscure the source of their wealth. And I will do so over the course of this month. So, stay tuned. Read More
My posting yesterday about Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett's links to Louis Perretta, one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America, got me thinking about the Leonard Cohen classic "Everybody Knows." Like many of Cohen's songs, it's a surreal commentary on life, politics, and society. Cohen's grim message is that everybody already knows everything about everything and everybody, but it doesn’t make damn bit of difference. The dice are loaded. The fight's fixed. The war's over. The good guys lost. And there's nothing we can do about it.
In the case of Garrett, a man who’d like to put robber barons in charge of America and turn back the clock to the 19th century, I’d hope that Cohen, who has a reputation as a visionary poet, is wrong. Because despite a lack of attention in the mainstream media, everybody who cares about Scott Garret and his bid for reelection in New Jersey’s 5th district knows that he’s been accepting campaign contributions from Porn King Louis Perretta, and that for years Garrett’s eastern district office and Perretta’s porn operation were in close proximity on the second floor at 210 Route 4 East, in Paramus.
Who’s everybody? Oh, just the Democratic Party and the mainstream media. Which begs the question: If everybody knows about Garrett and Perretta, how long can this story remain an open secret, especially when you take into account that the Democrats seem to think Garrett is unbeatable and are having enormous problems finding a credible candidate to run against him?
As I said yesterday, chances are this story will break on a large scale before Election Day. But it’s hardly a sure thing. Neither the Democratic Party nor the media are known for having a backbone, and to break a story like this, even though it’s public record that Garrett accepted campaign contributions from Perretta, requires a certain amount of courage. Why? Because I am the source of this story and I am, more or less, an “unknown” who has worked in the pornography industry, which is how I know about Perretta, who’s gone to great lengths to obscure the fact that he controls a pornographic magazine, web, and video empire. (Read all about it in Beaver Street.)
So, how long can this story, or any story of magnitude, remain under wraps? Well, in the case of my previous book, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, everybody knew about it for 18 years before it finally found its way into print. And with any luck at all, in 18 years, Garrett will be little more than an embarrassing footnote to New Jersey’s political history.
In the meantime, all I can suggest is enjoy the video. And check out the Don Henley version, too. He’s a much better singer than Leonard Cohen. Read More
On a day pregnant with literary and political significance, I'm going to revisit the story I ran here in February about Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett's links to Porn King Louis Perretta. As I've come to realize over the past month, Garrett, a Republican who represents New Jersey's 5th district, is a formidable and articulate opponent--a persuasive man who just happens to be on the wrong side of every issue and on the wrong side of history.
In the above video, Garrett is questioning Jeffrey Zients, director of the Office of Management and Budget, about Obama’s health care law. Like all Tea Party politicians, Garrett believes that the United States should remain the only industrialized nation in the world where health care is a privilege rather than a right, and that only the wealthy should be entitled to it. His line of questioning—Is the health care law not a new tax on the middle class?—has Zients on the defensive; you can see the fear in his eyes as Garrett moves in for the kill. If I were rich right-wing bastard, I’d vote for Garrett based on this performance alone.
How formidable is Garrett? Well, in the month since I posted the first piece about him, a series of Democrats, including Harry Carson, the former New York Giant, have announced that they were going to run against him, and then, for vague reasons, decided not to. Another potential opponent dropped out only three days ago.
A number of people have asked me why a sordid political scandal involving a right-wing extremist and one of America’s largest producers of hardcore pornography has gotten no attention beyond The Daily Beaver and the Erotic Review. Actually, the story has reached a wider audience. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is very much aware of it, and would love to see the scandal explode in the media. And the media, too, has this story on their radar screens. Why they haven’t run with it yet it is probably just matter of certain newspapers exercising excessive caution because of the wealthy, powerful people involved. In other words, The Tea Party Congressman and the Porn King is an open secret that can’t remain under wraps indefinitely. And though the Ides of March would be a poetic day for somebody to break the story, the mainstream media has little interest in poetry.
My prediction: Something will happen before Election Day. It has to. Read More
There’s no question that the Scott Garrett story drove the bulk of February’s traffic. I’d never heard of Garrett, an ultra-conservative Tea Party congressman representing New Jersey’s 5th district, until a couple of weeks ago. That was when I learned that porn magnate Lou Perretta, whom I’d once worked for, had been contributing to Republicans.
I’d known my former boss was a Republican since 1998, when he demanded I remove from a satiric feature titled “The Illustrated Starr Report” a reference to Kenneth Starr as a “deranged prosecutor.” (Perretta had no problem with the grotesque illustrations of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in flagrante delicto.)
But what caught my eye as I examined the easily accessible public documents detailing Perretta’s political contributions over a 10-year period was the name Scott Garrett, which popped up repeatedly.
Some basic research revealed that Garrett, who was elected by a comfortable margin, is anti-voting rights, anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-gay, anti-environment, and anti-science. That his office was on the same floor in the same office building as Perretta’s office, and that the politics of a Tea Party Republican and a Porn King seemed to mesh in so many ways, was the subject of my two postings about Garrett.
If the Garrett story should reach an audience beyond The Daily Beaver, that would, indeed, be a bonus—an example of one of journalism’s classic purposes: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Because it’s frightening that a politician who you’d think would be more at home in the reddest, red-neck corner of Alabama could be elected to Congress in Bergen County. But considering my own experiences toiling for seven years on Perretta’s Bergen County porn plantation—which I’ve written about in Beaver Street—it’s not terribly surprising. In fact it’s just more proof that you don’t have to venture far from New York City to find Red America in all its ignorant, bigoted glory. Read More
The former staffer, Sonja Wagner, 74—a graphic artist who, like many of her colleagues, saw pornography as a “survival job”—was for 16 years a freelance art director on scores of Perretta’s X-rated titles before he stopped giving her work in 2009. She said that it was common knowledge among Perretta’s employees that female members of Garrett’s staff had complained about Perretta’s company, apparently to building manager Vornado Reality Trust, which maintains offices in the building on the second, fourth, and fifth floors. According to Wagner, Garrett’s staff did not want to share the second-floor bathroom with pornographers, and soon after raising the complaint they began using the bathroom on the fifth floor to avoid them.
The staff complaint illuminates one of the darker corners of Garrett’s political philosophy—one that seems to mesh with Perretta’s. Garrett, a Tea Party icon and a “birther” who, citing states’ rights, was one of only 33 representatives to vote against the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006. The act prohibits voting discrimination based on race, and 390 house members voted to renew it.
A 2010 survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality indicated that Tea Party supporters have a 25 percent higher probability of being racially resentful than those who do not support the Tea Party.
Garrett’s staff apparently harbors a reflexive segregating impulse reminiscent of the pre-1965 Jim Crow laws enforced in all southern states of the former Confederacy. These laws demanded racial segregation in public facilities, notably “white only” and “colored only” bathrooms. In this peculiar 21st century case, Garrett’s staff wanted “separate but equal” facilities for pornographers and Republicans.
Ironically, Perretta’s company also produces a line of magazines marketed to an African American audience, including Hype Hair, Today’s Black Woman, Black Men, and Word Up. Yet Perretta has referred to his minority employees as “animals,” and in one instance said to an African American art director, “Shrink that photo—like your ancestors shrunk heads.”
Among the hardcore magazines and websites that Perretta controls are Club, Gallery, High Society, Swank, Gent, Genesis, Fox, Velvet, Just 18, and Cheri.
“It’s against house ethics for me to comment about Garrett’s campaign,” said Ben Veghte, who works in Garrett’s Washington office.
The office of Scott Garrett for Congress has so far not returned calls and so has neither confirmed nor denied that Garrett was aware that his staff had complained about Perretta’s company, one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America.
Vornado Realty Trust, as a policy, does not comment on tenants, and so has neither confirmed nor denied that members of Garrett’s staff had formally complained to them about having to share a bathroom with employees of a company that produced hardcore pornography. Read More
Garrett, a Tea Party icon and a “birther” who is up for reelection this year, is known for his extreme right-wing positions. He received a perfect 100 rating from the American Conservative Union and a 0 rating from the Sierra Club.
Citing “states’ rights,” Garrett has opposed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, an extension of unemployment benefits during the recession, a woman’s right to choose an abortion in cases of rape and incest, and emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Perretta, of Saddle River, NJ, publishes such hardcore pornographic titles as Club, Gallery, High Society, Swank, Gent, Genesis, Fox, Velvet, Just 18, and Cheri. Though most of these magazines were “softcore” when he began acquiring them in the early 1990s, he switched them all to a “hardcore” format in 1999, and is now one the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America. (In the world of pornography, “hardcore” refers to images that show vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.)
Perretta also produces a line of hardcore DVDs and controls the X-rated websites associated with his magazines.
Perretta, either directly or through members of his immediate family, donated over $10,000 to Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee (RNC) since 2000, soon after switching to the hardcore format. But his contributions to Garrett stand out both because of the proximity of their offices and because their politics seem to merge so seamlessly.
Perretta, who has referred to minority employees as “animals,” once told an African American art director to “Shrink that photo—like your ancestors shrunk heads.” In the past decade, he has systematically fired his most senior editors (this reporter was one of them) and art directors, most of whom began working for him in 1993, when he acquired all the titles belonging to Swank Publications. He has also closed down Great Eastern, his printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York, eliminating dozens of jobs and outsourcing them to a printer in Canada in order to enhance profits and to avoid problems associated with exporting hardcore pornography from the US into Canada.
Perretta is currently being sued for age-and-sex discrimination by former employee Joyce Snyder, while Garrett was given the worst rating of any NJ congressman by the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation.
Garrett’s other right-wing positions include opposing a ban on assault weapons; opposing child safety locks on handguns; supporting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; opposing restrictions on price gouging by oil companies; supporting oil drilling off the NJ shore; supporting the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools; and opposing stem cell research. He has also voted against numerous animal protection laws, including a ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption.
Perretta is listed in FEC records as a “self-employed business executive” with the Great Eastern Lithographic Corporation.
Both Garrett’s office and the RNC’s have so far not returned calls, and so have neither confirmed nor denied that they were aware that Perretta is one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America. Read More
Which brings us to the curious case of Texas Governor Rick Perry, an ultra-conservative Republican and evangelical Christian who does not believe in evolution, global warming, or separation of church and state. Perry is running for president, but has never spoken out against pornography, like most of the other Republican presidential candidates, notably Michele Bachmann, who wants to ban it altogether.
The apparent reason Perry has never declared war on porn is because he once trafficked in pornography. According to Salon and numerous other sites, the Texas governor owned between $5,000 and $10,000 in stock in Movie Gallery, a Blockbuster-like video rental chain that was known for its wide selection of XXX titles, and was the target of the American Family Association, a socially conservative group that recently helped Perry organize a prayer rally to save America from Obama. The AFA had once described the Movie Gallery’s product line as “hundreds of these hard, nasty-looking videos that were extremely graphic.”
Among the titles that Movie Gallery carried were: Teens with Tits Vol. 1, Teen Power Vol. 4, Teens Never Say No, Big Tit Brotha Lovers 6, and Bisexual Barebacking Vol. 1.
If I’m not mistaken, I ran positive reviews of most of these videos when I was editor of D-Cup. Who knew that I was helping Rick Perry make money? Read More
Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who seems determined to join this distinguished group. In an effort to save his political career, Hatch has demanded, along with 41 other senators, that the Justice Department investigate and prosecute pornographers more vigorously. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “The porno investigation is the last refuge of the doomed politician.”
Last week, Republican presidential candidate and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann stepped into the XXX fray, signing a pledge to fight against “all forms of pornography.” The pledge also suggests that African-Americans were in some ways better off under slavery, and that homosexuality can be cured.
It’s probably not necessary for me to say that Michele Bachmann’s ignorance and bigotry rivals that of Sarah Palin. All I can do is wonder what crimes she’s committed that will lead to her inevitable disgrace. Read More
America’s Anti-Porn Senator at work.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah—whose former aide Elisa Florez became the porn actress Missy Manners, star of Behind the Green Door: The Sequel—is taking some time off from his crusade against pornography to go after poor people.
According to Talking Points Memo, Hatch told the Senate yesterday that the poor need to pay more taxes and “share some of the responsibility” for shrinking the national debt.
According to The Huffington Post, Hatch also voted against beginning debate on a resolution to have the Senate declare that millionaires and billionaires should share the pain of debt reduction.
I think that Hatch should stick to what he does best: railing against pornography. Having employed Ms. Florez, at least that’s something, unlike poverty, that he’s personally experienced. Read More
1. Her real name is Elisa Florez.
2. She was born in Salt Lake City, in 1962.
3. Her mother was a fashion model.
4. She considered herself the “ugly duckling” in the family.
5. She believed her breasts were too large.
6. Her first job, at age 15, was a United States Senate page.
7. She later worked as a United States Senate intern.
8. She was a receptionist for Senator Orrin Hatch, anti-porn Republican of Utah.
9. She worked for the Republican National Committee and for President Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign.
10. She studied political science at Georgetown University.
11. She moved to San Francisco in 1985.
12. Her boyfriend was sex-photographer Dave Patrick.
13. She competed in the Miss Nude America pageant.
14. She competed in an amateur night dance contest at the O’Farrell Theater.
15. She met James and Artie Mitchell.
16. She became Artie Mitchell’s girlfriend.
17. Her life with Artie Mitchell included such activities as tennis, racquetball, riding bikes, and doing coke.
18. She auditioned for the leading role in Behind the Green Door: The Sequel, and was selected over 300 other actresses.
19. She testified before the Meese Commission on Pornography.
20. She made a non-pornographic safe-sex video, Missy’s Guide to Safe Sex.
21. Her father was George H. W. Bush’s Undersecretary of Education. Read More
The other day, however, The Daily Beast ran a piece that explains Hatch’s strategy, porn-wise. It seems the senator is a target of the Tea Party—they think he isn’t conservative enough, and want to replace him with somebody even more right wing. Clearly, Hatch’s call for the Justice Department to launch a vigorous porn investigation is his attempt to show the Tea Party that he can be as idiotic as any politician.
But is the Tea Party even aware of Hatch’s relationship with Elisa Florez, who became the porn star Missy Manners after working for Hatch? Not that I’d ever want to do anything to help the Tea Party, but really, Teabaggers, if you want to run a politician out of Utah, all you’ve got to do is point out his links to the porn industry. It’ll work every time. Read More
Senator, how did your experiences employing Elisa Florez, who after working for you became the porn star Missy Manners, influence your views on the porn industry?